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August Nutrition Feature
August 07, 2012
Protein Requirements for Athletes
Protein is an important macronutrient which helps our bodies rebuild muscle, bone, skin and other tissue. Many protein shakes and supplements claim they are essential to building stronger and bigger muscles. High protein diets are also all the rage, in which protein is almost considered a “free” food that you can eat in unlimited quantities. So with all of these claims out there you might think Americans were at risk for not getting enough protein. In fact, most Americans eat more protein than we need.
What is Protein?
Protein is made up of 20 different amino acids that join together to make all different types of protein. Some of the amino acids can’t be made by our bodies so these are called essential amino acids. A complete protein source is one that provides all the essential amino acids. For example meat, fish, eggs, and milk are considered complete or a high quality protein source. An incomplete protein source is low in one or more of the essential amino acids. Complementary protein sources are two or more incomplete protein sources that together provide adequate amounts of all essential amino acids. An example is rice and beans. In the past, it was thought that these complimentary proteins had to be eaten at the same meal but now studies show that your body can combine complimentary proteins that are eaten within the same day.
How much is enough?
How much protein an athlete needs on a daily basis depends on the amount and type of exercise and weight.
Type of Individual: Grams of Protein per body weight pound
Sedentary adult: 0.4
Recreational exerciser (adult): 05.5-0.7
Endurance athlete: 0.6-0.7
Growing teenage athlete: 0.7-0.9
Adult building muscle mass: 0.7-0.8
Athlete restricting calories: 0.8-0.9
To determine your protein needs, simply identify which category you belong to and then multiply your body weight in pounds by the amount listed. For example a 140 lb. endurance athlete would need about 85-100 grams of protein per day.
140 lb x 0.6 g/lb = 84 g protein
140lb x 0.7 g/lb= 98g protein
These are safe and adequate protein recommendations and are not minimal amounts. If you are overweight, use your IBW to calculate protein needs. Athletes that restrict calories often need higher amounts because the protein may be converted to glucose and burned for energy instead of being used to build and repair muscles. Eating more than the recommended protein intake offers no benefits. Apart from being costly, a protein-based diet commonly displaces important carbs from the diet. That is, if you have an omelet and a protein shake for breakfast instead of cereal with banana, you'll consume fewer carbs to fuel your muscles properly. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for athletes who do muscle-building resistance exercise. Once your muscles become carb-depleted, fatigue sets in and your workout is over. Your diet should provide extra carbohydrate, not extra protein. Excess protein does not build muscle bulk, only resistance exercise does. A high protein diet can also be high in saturated fat.
Protein Amounts in Common Foods
Food Source: Grams of Protein per Standard Serving
Egg: 3.5/ 1 large egg
Milk (1%): 8/ 8 oz.
Peanut butter: 4.5/ 1 tbsp
Tuna: 40/ 6 oz
Chicken breast: 35/4 oz
Hamburger: 30/4 oz
Hummus: 6/1/2 cup
Yogurt: 11/1 cup
For most athletes, eating moderate amounts of lean high quality protein at each meal, plus smaller amounts in pre- and post- exerciser snacks (to speed recovery and repair muscles), is adequate to meet their protein needs. Remember, you have a daily need for protein; you can not store extra protein for use the following day.
1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2009). Eating on the Road. Retrieved July 25, 2012 from
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). Nutrition for Everyone, Protein. Retrieved July 225, 2012 from www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.htm
3. Clark, Nancy.2008. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. 4th ed. Champaign: Human Kinetics.
4. Pennington, J. 2004. Bowes & Church’s food values of portions commonly used. 18th ed. Philadelphia: Lipponcott Williams &Wilkins.
Kristen Logue RD, LDN